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Witness Recants in Ngor Murder Case

February 27, 1998

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A witness who said he saw three men running from the alley where Academy Award-winning actor Haing Ngor was killed now says he made up the story out of fear of the police and government in his native Cambodia.

Vireak Sarik testified Thursday that he went along with police who planted in his mind the idea that he had seen the defendants run away after the actor was killed in February 1996.

Under questioning by defense attorney Joy Wilensky, the 26-year-old Sarik told of leaving Cambodia at age 10, living in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, then settling in Los Angeles where his family ran a liquor store.

``When you were growing up in Cambodia, were you afraid of the government and the police?″ asked Ms. Wilensky.

``Yes,″ Sarik said.

``When the police first came to you were you afraid because of what you remembered about the government in Cambodia?″ asked the attorney.

``Yes, ma’am,″ said Sarik, who testified through a Cambodian translator earlier in the week. He was asked by defense lawyers to speak in English on Thursday.

Asked if he knew the three men on trial, Sarik said, ``No, I never see them.″

In tape-recorded police interviews played for jurors, Sarik clearly identified the three men on trial. But he recanted in court.

When he was asked by Ms. Wilensky if he was afraid of the men, he said, ``Yes, ma’am. I’m scared for my life and my family.″ At another point, Sarik was asked if he was afraid of anyone in the courtroom and he said resolutely: ``Craig Hum.″

Hum is the prosecutor who contends that Sarik has changed his story because he fears retribution from the Oriental Lazy Boyz gang. Defendants Tak Sun Tan, 21, Indra Lim, 20, and Jason Chan, 20, are acknowledged members of the street gang.

As Hum questioned Sarik, the witness cradled his head in his hands. He said he was all right but refused to explain his behavior.

The prosecution says Ngor, 55, was the victim of a robbery by gang members who needed money for cocaine. There are no eyewitnesses to the crime and the items allegedly stolen _ a gold Rolex watch and a gold necklace containing a picture of Ngor’s dead wife _ have not been found.

Hum had predicted in opening statements that witnesses would recant their original statements out of fear.

Deputy Public Defender Steven Schoenfield asked Sarik how he felt under intense questioning by police. ``I go home. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I go home and all I do is worry about this problem,″ he said. ``I’m scared.″

``What do you think they’re going to do to you?″ asked Schoenfield.

``Put me in jail,″ said the witness.

Pressed to tell jurors the absolute truth about the shooting, he said, ``I was not there.″

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